COMPLEXITY: Physics of Life

Simon DeDeo on Good Explanations & Diseases of Epistemology

Episode Notes

What makes a satisfying explanation? Understanding and prediction are two different goals at odds with one another — think fundamental physics versus artificial neural networks — and even what defines a “simple” explanation varies from one person to another. Held in a kind of ecosystemic balance, these diverse approaches to seeking knowledge keep each other honest…but the use of one kind of knowledge to the exclusion of all others leads to disastrous results. And in the 21st Century, the difference between good and bad explanations determines how society adapts as rapid change transforms the world most people took for granted — and sends humankind into the epistemic wilds  to find new stories that will help us navigate this brave new world.

This week we dive deep with SFI External Professor Simon DeDeo at Carnegie Mellon University to explore his research into intelligence and the search for understanding, bringing computational techniques to bear on the history of science, information processing at the scale of society, and how digital technologies and the coronavirus pandemic challenge humankind to think more carefully about the meaning that we seek, here on the edge of chaos…

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Podcast theme music by Mitch Mignano.

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Works Discussed:

From Probability to Consilience: How Explanatory Values Implement Bayesian Reasoning
Zachary Wojtowicz & Simon DeDeo (+ SFI press release on this paper)

Supertheories and Consilience from Alchemy to Electromagnetism
Simon DeDeo (SFI lecture video)

From equality to hierarchy
Simon DeDeo & Elizabeth Hobson

The Complex Alternative: Complexity Scientists on the COVID-19 Pandemic
SFI Press (with “From Virus to Symptom” by Simon DeDeo)

Boredom and Flow: An Opportunity Cost Theory of Attention-Directing Motivational States
Zachary Wojtowicz, Nick Chater, & George Loewenstein

Scale and information-processing thresholds in Holocene social evolution
Jaeweon Shin, Michael Holton Price, David H. Wolpert, Hajime Shimao, Brendan Tracey, & Timothy A. Kohler 

Slowed canonical progress in large fields of science
Johan Chu and James Evans
Will A Large Complex System Be Stable?
Robert May

Related Podcast Episodes:

• Andy Dobson on Disease Ecology & Conservation Strategy

• Nicole Creanza on Cultural Evolution in Humans & Songbirds

• On Coronavirus, Crisis, and Creative Opportunity with David Krakauer

• Carl Bergstrom & Jevin West on Calling Bullshit: The Art of Skepticism in a Data-Driven World

• Vicky Yang & Henrik Olsson on Political Polling & Polarization: How We Make Decisions & Identities

• David Wolpert on The No Free Lunch Theorems and Why They Undermine The Scientific Method

• Science in The Time of COVID: Michael Lachmann & Sam Scarpino on Lessons from The Pandemic

• Jonas Dalege on The Physics of Attitudes & Beliefs

• Tyler Marghetis on Breakdowns & Breakthroughs: Critical Transitions in Jazz & Mathematics


David Spergel, Zachary Wojtowicz, Stuart Kauffman, Jessica Flack, Thomas Bayes, Claude Shannon, Sean M. Carroll, Dan Sperber, David Krakauer, Marten Scheffer, David Deutsch, Jaewon Shin, Stuart Firestein, Bob May, Peter Turchin, David Hume, Jimmy Wales, Tyler Marghetis